Afternoon was rapidly turning to evening as the dogs and I returned from our end-of-the-day walk. Along the way, I’d noticed that the man in the moon looked kind of concerned. His mouth formed a small “o”, his eyes appeared perplexed beneath raised eyebrows, and his head tilted questioningly to the left. He is probably as dismayed as I am that my suitcase still hasn’t unpacked itself. Between the time it takes to get ready to be gone from work, then time spent catching up with having been gone, it’s almost not worth going away. Almost. I can still feel that warm sand on my feet.
A while ago I said I wasn’t going to presume to teach you how make French toast
Clearly, I lied. Flip-flopping bread in some beaten eggs and frying it is all very well and good. But turning it into a simple, quiet sensation – and a sweetly savory one at that – is a bit of another thing. And while this may seem like a lot of hoo-ha to prepare, it takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
As you read along, it will probably come to you that this is not a dinner for children. Yes, you could cook it in butter rather than olive oil. You could leave the salt out of the eggs and add a bit of sugar and maybe cinnamon, some vanilla extract. But by then you’d be walking down the path of the proverb that warns, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost,” and ends with the whole blessed kingdom circling the drain. Small events, huge consequences. And pretty soon you’ve forgotten that all you wanted was your own French toast. Don’t, as we used to say and thank heaven don’t any more, go there.
So. First, use good bread.
I know, I know, lots of people think it’s a great way to use up stale bread, and it could be, if only the bread were allowed to sit in the eggs long enough to actually soak them up and turn soft again. Most of us aren’t that patient. Sometimes a sow’s ear is just a sow’s ear. So use good bread. Ciabatta is my favorite.
Its open structure and inherent tenderness make it perfect for French toast. If you don’t have access to good ciabatta, the next best thing (I’m not making this up) is what grocery stores want you to believe is French bread. You know, the soft, fat thing as big around as your thigh that’s about as far from a baguette as it’s possible to get.
I know, I’m surprised, too; I never, ever, thought I’d find myself recommending it for anything. But it’s perfect here. Slice either ciabatta or “French” bread close to an inch thick.
Don’t add milk. Just don’t.
The only reason to add milk is if you haven’t the patience for your bread (and I know you still want to use stale stuff) to soak up the eggs, so you add milk in order to soften the bread faster. I’ve seen it written that adding milk, half-and-half, or cream (as if they’re interchangeable; really?) results in custardy French toast. Well, perhaps, if you use stale bread and fry the shit out of it really fast. But if you use good bread, any added dairy content will only make the result soggy. So. Use good bread. And don’t add milk. Please.
2 eggs for each person
Yes. Each person. The ciabatta is going to absorb every last drop. Whisk them together, along with about a quarter teaspoon of sea or kosher salt. The salt encourages the egg whites to relax and combine thoroughly with the yolks. Keep whisking until the salt dissolves. It will. When you can’t feel its grittiness in the bottom of the bowl as you whisk, it’s gone.
How to soak the bread?
My mother always used a dinner plate, so for a long time I did, too. I came across a method recently that suggested using a pie tin, which is basically a dinner plate with deeper, more sloping sides and a much smaller area into which to crowd the eggs and bread.
The perfect vessel is a cake pan or a soufflé dish. Both have a large, perfectly flat bottom and perpendicular sides which permit eggs and bread to coexist all on the same level. Pour the beaten eggs into it and add the slices of bread.
Let them sit until almost all the eggs have been absorbed, about 7 minutes. Then gently turn them over (use a spatula because they’re going to be very soft and tender, and tearing them would be sort of awful). Let them finish soaking up the remaining eggs, about 3 minutes more.
Butter and I are still having a time-out. So fry your French toast in some olive oil. The extra-good, extra-virgin stuff. And let the olive oil warm along with the pan.
Start with medium heat
No hotter than that so you don’t fry the shit out of it really fast. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself turning the heat lower once you add the bread. This French toast needs to cook very slowly. It is so saturated with eggs that if you fry it quickly and remove it once it looks browned on both sides, it will be soggy and wet in the center whether you add milk or not. The distance between soggy and custardy is measured in time. It’s fine to turn it once it has browned on one side, but let it get there slowly, with just the slightest sizzle. Cook it for about 6 minutes on the first side and about 4 on the second. Your patience will be rewarded with French toast that has a crisp shell encasing a warm, tender center that is the very definition of “custardy.” You’ve never seen anything like this. Trust me.
And olive oil. And honey. Break off about a 2-ounce chunk of goat cheese. Go ahead, lick your fingers. It’s your kitchen. Mix this together while your bread is absorbing the eggs.
Set the goat cheese in a shallow bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a gentle glug of honey – about a teaspoon. Use a fork to mash and blend them together. The mixture doesn’t have to be perfect. And try not to eat it all before it gets to your French toast.
Herbs and lemon zest
Fresh herbs. Rosemary, thyme, basil, whatever you have. Chop up about a half teaspoon and stir it into the goat cheese mixture along with some lemon zest – pass a lemon over a Microplane two or three times. Today I mixed a new sourdough bread blend with fresh rosemary and lemon zest, so their combined scents were fresh on my palate.
Serve it forth
Spread it over the slices of French toast after they come out of the skillet. Let it all sit for a minute or so. The goat cheese will soften sooooooo seductively, and the rosemary-lemon aroma will weaken your knees.
Breakfast for dinner has been elevated to a whole new realm. And brought a smile to the man in the moon.